Preach What You Practice

By Joe Stewart

I have worked in politics in one way or another most of my adult life – run campaigns, lobbied the state legislature, served in state government, headed up a trade association, been a business-issues lobbyist, and consulted on strategies for advocacy and direct political action.

Along the way, I have come to appreciate the value and necessity of public opinion research.

Taking the time to objectively assess what people think, and why they think it, assures your planning process (whether to accomplish long-term public policy objectives, or just to get more folks to vote for your candidate than the other rascal) is grounded in reality.

This is just as true in the non-profit world, and not just for the purposes of assessing the feasibility of a particular fundraising venture.

It’s about taking time to engage stakeholders of all sorts – funders, collaborative partners, advocates, civic and government leaders, peer organizations, staff and Board, business people, beneficiaries and utilizers of programs and services offered, and anyone who knows about who your organization is and what it does.

And, simply put, it’s no more complicated than giving folks the opportunity to answer ‘what do you think of us, what do we do well and what could we do better, what do you wish we did do that we don’t do now (or do, and you wish we wouldn’t)’ ensures your aspirational face is braced with a cold splash of reality of how your organization is perceived by people who know and love you (and who you are counting on to help if you are to reach your strategic goals).

So when Bert called and asked if I would help Armstrong McGuire with an internal project, I immediately said yes. But when he explained that he was looking for my assistance with gathering some solid, objective insights on perceptions of the firm from a sampling of clients I was especially eager to help.

Seems Bert and his team were planning to update their own strategic plan. They wanted to include in their deliberations – just like they advise their clients to do – results of an objective assessment (conducted by someone outside the firm to ensure participant candor by assuring their anonymity) conducted among folks they’ve done work for in the past.

I conducted the interviews, summarized the findings, presented the final report to Bert and his team, and now they’re developing a roadmap for success that’s grounded in a clear-headed understanding of the firm’s value proposition from the client’s perspective.

It’s not just taking the time to undertake this kind of assessment that shows courage, it’s the fact that confronting analysis of this sort compels you to be self-critical – and my daddy said being self-critical is always hardest because you know that critic so personally.

As much as Armstrong McGuire calls upon clients to have the fortitude for this kind of useful strategic assessment, they certainly have proven willing to take their own advice.

Joe Stewart is the Vice President for Governmental Affairs at the Independent Insurance Agents of NC (IIANC), where he runs lobbying, advocacy and political engagement for nearly 10,000 insurance agents and brokers across North Carolina. Among professional endeavors, he’s served as Chief Deputy State Treasurer, was Political Director of the NC Chamber, and served as executive director of the NC Free Enterprise Foundation (a nonpartisan non-profit political research organization) before joining IIANC in October 2017. He does some consulting outside of his fulltime job from time to time, mostly with businesses and business trade associations on legislative, public policy and political engagement strategies.

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